President Ono, 15th President and Vice Chancellor of the University of British Columbia, UBC.
Apology excerpts from his speech at the official opening of Indian Residential school history and Dialogue 9/4/2018
‘Universities bear part of the responsibility for this history, not only for having trained many of the policy makers and administrators who operated the system,(residential school) and doing so little to address the exclusion from higher education that the schools so effectively created, but also for tacitly accepting the silence surrounding it. In years past, even after the signing of human rights declarations and ethics agreements that followed World War II, university professors conducted research on the residential schools that exploited their deplorable conditions without attempting to change them.
In modern times, the continuing failure to address this history has meant that the previous ways of thinking – or of not thinking – about the system (residential school) that have remained largely intact. Failing to confront a heinous history, even if it is one that we did not cause, is to become complicit in its perpetuation. This is not a result that we, as a university, can accept.
That is why, today, on behalf of the UBC community, I apologize to you who were so affected by that system — for our participation in a system that has oppressed you, excluded you, and that, through intention or inaction, continues to cause offense’.
Every action that anyone takes to move us forward is significant, and there are always ways in which each one of us can act. We know, however, that even as we have worked towards these goals, we have made mistakes, and we cannot presume that we will not make more in the future. Our commitment is to learn from our mistakes, and, together, to continue to move forward. Our commitment, as a university, and as a community of many members, must be strong, and must always result in meaningful action. That is our realization and it is our duty to act.’
Should we be responsible for the sins of one’s ancestors?
In making this apology, we have sought to understand the depth of our involvement, and the nature of the actions we commit to today.
Some of my colleagues may note that the major part of the oppression and offense of the Indian residential school system occurred generations ago, and thus predate the UBC community of today. And they may ask: are we – can we be – guilty for wrongs we did not personally commit?
This question is pursued in an insightful book, On Apology, published in 2005 by Aaron Lazare, Emeritus Chancellor and Dean, and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His answer is two-fold:
First, people are not guilty for actions in which they did not participate. But just as people take pride in things for which they had no responsibility (such as famous ancestors, national championships of their sports teams, and great accomplishments of their nation), so, too, must these people accept the shame (but not guilt) of their family, their athletic teams, and their nations. Accepting national pride must include national shame when one’s country has not measured up to reasonable standards. . . . this accountability is what we mean when we speak of having a national identity, or a sense of national belonging, or a national soul .
A second and related rationale for people apologizing for actions they did not directly commit is that these people have profited from these actions. Imperialistic acquisition of land and the use of slave labor by a nation, for example, may continue to benefit future generations of citizens. Such beneficiaries, while not guilty, may feel a moral responsibility to those who suffered as a result of the offense’.